After nine years, finally married

I’m writing this column anonymously because some family members can not cope with other people knowing. Still, I think our story is important to tell. For some, it will bring hope. For the rest, a small piece of you will be in there too.

Our story started when we were both 22. We are one of the lucky couples that met in real life and not by spending ages on dating apps. He approached me in a club with the pick-up line: “You are the most handsome guy here.” It didn’t work at first, I thought he was a weirdo. Who says that?! But later that night, we talked some more, exchanged numbers, and did some naughty stuff in the toilet.

We were both young, happy with our lives, and excited about living in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which was a new city to both of us. Over the years, we both have had promising careers, and we were even running a local business together. But something didn’t add up. And when we were considering buying a house together, everything fell apart.

You would think that Croatia, as part of the EU, would be open and welcoming to the LGBTIQ+ community. Many of you had a fantastic time in Croatia as tourists but the reality of living there is quite different. This applies not only to Croatia, but also to countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and even Italy. I couldn’t imagine living our lives there, not in a million years. Just think of explaining to neighbours that we are not roommates, or taking him to a company party, or holding his hand in public…

Imagine, almost 7 out of 10 people around you don’t think of you as equal. And they will make an effort on Sunday morning to vote for that.

Growing up in countries like that, especially in the small towns that we are from, teaches you how to be more straight. You should do your gay stuff at home. Over the years, I got tired of all the lies I needed to tell, every single day, to make my life work. Tired of not using our cute nicknames while in public. Tired of remembering who knows about us and who doesn’t. Tired of overhearing conversations on the terraces about how gay people can’t be good parents or how it’s unnatural. And most of all, tired of telling myself to just be happy with the so-called fulfilled life I already had.

There are good LGBTIQ+ laws in place in Croatia, it’s not the worst country in the world. However, there is always a BUT. You can have a kid, but only as a foster parent (that is now slowly changing, finally). You can legally live together and be a family, but it’s called a civil union and not a marriage. In 2013, a new law was planned to be embedded in the Croatian Constitution. The law stated that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. In a referendum, the vast majority of 65,8% (!) agreed and only 33% opposed the proposal. Imagine, almost 7 out of 10 people around you don’t think of you as equal. And they will make an effort on Sunday morning to vote for that, and these are people you have to deal with every single day.

I knew we needed a break from our world as I couldn’t picture our life moving forward. So, we booked a one-way ticket to New Zealand and left everything behind. We quit our jobs, moved personal stuff to our parents’ place, and just left. We spent a year there on a working holiday visa, and it’s hard to explain how our world turned upside down. It was a strange period in which everything somehow became clearer. For the first time, we felt free enough to join a Pride Walk. Without doing anything special, I’ve lost 25 kilos, but my mum still would call me skinny. I guess the inner stress eater was having a long-needed break. After a year in New Zealand, we decided to try Amsterdam.

Imagine, almost 7 out of 10 people around you don’t think of you as equal. And they will make an effort on Sunday morning to vote for that.

Moving to the Netherlands was the biggest disagreement we had in our relationship so far. It’s difficult to move to another country alone, but way more complicated together. It’s hard to not speak the language, be far from the people you love, and work a shitty job in the beginning, while still remembering the wonderful life you had just seconds ago. With that comes a family that doesn’t support your lifestyle. We decided to live separately for five months, one in the Netherlands and one in Croatia, to think things through. Luckily, we realised our love was stronger than any obstacle we had to overcome, and we came back together. And best of all, we ended up getting married recently and are now living our best life.

It’s cheesy, but we love each other more than ever. This marriage is not just the start of our “official” life together, but also a celebration of everything we’ve done to be here. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. It’s possible and I see our future more clearly now. There is probably a kid in that picture too, as soon as we get on the same page about whether we will adopt a girl or a boy (but to be honest, we won’t care).

It never felt like I belonged somewhere. I’m a child from a mixed marriage, as they refer to couples from different countries of former Yugoslavia (it’s a thing!), and I was constantly bullied for it in school. Somehow, I never felt Croatian, nor Serbian. Maybe just European. And being gay, I felt even more distanced from the locals.

However, throughout my whole life, I knew it would get better. As a kid, I always thought I could pack my stuff in a small rucksack and find my happy place at the end of the world if needed. And so I did. I was just lucky enough to do that with the person I love in my arms.